Rep. Nunes: America Faces Highest Terror Threat Level Ever

Ignoring the grim lessons of 9/11.

Usually the first challenge I face in writing my commentaries is to come up with a concise title that captures the most salient part of the issue I am writing about. Today I found this task easy, I simply borrowed the headline from CBS News' Face the Nation article that quoted none other than Congressional Representative Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

That headline is concise and echoes the very same concerns I have had in reviewing all of the publicly available information on the issue of threats posed by international terrorists.

What is impossible to understand is how the administration, members of Congress, local and state politicians and journalists have been absolutely unwilling to “connect the impossible to ignore dots” that are flashing, not unlike the strobe lights on a police car or other emergency vehicle.

Here is the segment of the article that accompanied the headline and addressed the topic of the threat of terrorism in the United States today:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, said the nation faces "the highest threat level we have ever faced in this country" due to the flow of foreign fighters to and from Iraq and Syria and the radicalization of young people on the Internet.

U.S. officials have been warning for months about the threat posed by people from America or Western Europe who travel to the Middle East to fight with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and then return to their home countries, where they may carry out attacks. Nunes said the U.S. is not aware of all the people who have made the trek or who have now come back, although FBI Director James Comey has said there are cases open in all 50 states.

Officials are increasingly looking for ways to combat radical jihadists' effectiveness in recruiting supporters through social media.

"They're very good at communicating through separate avenues where it's very difficult to track," he said. "That's why when you get a young person who is willing to get into these chat rooms, go on the Internet and get radicalized, it's something we are not only unprepared [for], we are also not used to it in this country."

He said that investigations often "do no good" in encrypted chat rooms where those communications take place, so Americans should be diligent about reporting suspicious activity to the proper authorities because "we are having a tough time tracking terrorist cells within the United States."

The warnings are particularly pertinent with the July 4 holiday approaching. Nunes noted that there will be large gatherings in every city across America.

"It's just tough to secure those types of areas if you have someone who wants to blow themselves up or open fire or other threats of that nature and we just don't know or can track all of the bad guys that are out there today," he said.

The famed playwright, George Bernard Shaw's statement says it all:

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”

If our leaders were to seek to learn history's lessons they should read the appropriate history books.

The 9/11 Commission Report and the “9/11 and Terrorist Travel - Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States” are the most complete and authoritative "history books" concerning the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and even included evaluations of vulnerabilities that led to previous terror attacks -- both those that succeeded and those that failed. These books were prepared by the government of the United States in response to the horrific terror attacks that left more than 3,000 innocent victims dead.

My May 22, 2015 commentary for the Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) website, “Bin Laden, The 9/11 Commission Report and Immigration,” addressed the fact that when the U.S. Navy SEALS raided the bin Laden compound, among the documents found in his library were a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report and a copy of an application for United States citizenship. It must be presumed that he had no intentions of filing for U.S. citizenship himself, but was contemplating embedding his terrorist operatives in the United States through the naturalization process.

Presumably bin Laden read that report -- the obvious question that has no obvious answer, is “how many member of the administration, Congress, political leaders in states and cities around the United States and journalists who are quick to chime in with their proclamations about how to 'fix' the 'broken' immigration system have actually read those reports?”

The damage inflicted on the United States and indeed the world by those attacks, has been inestimable and it continues to reverberate in so many ways. These reports both addressed the issue of the ways in which the 9/11 terrorists were able to enter the United States and embed themselves in the United States. The latter of those two reports (the Staff Report) obviously focused the ways that the terrorists were able to travel around the world as they went about their deadly preparation and on flaws and vulnerabilities in the immigration system that failed to prevent the entry and subsequent embedding of not only the 19 hijackers, but other terrorists who were identified as operating in the United States in the decade leading up to the attacks of 9/11.

In point of fact, the investigation upon which these reports were based determined that the ability of the terrorists to travel around the world and cross international borders, especially the borders of the United States, were essential to the ability of the terrorists to carry out those deadly attacks.

The preface of the report begins with the following three paragraphs and makes it clear that this report sought information from as many credible sources as possible:

It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made one.

Congress gave the Commission the mandate to study, evaluate, and report on immigration, nonimmigrant visas and border security” as these areas relate to the events of 9/11. This staff report represents 14 months of such research. It is based on thousands of pages of documents we reviewed from the State Department, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, approximately 25 briefings on various border security topics, and more than 200 interviews. We are grateful to all who assisted and supported us along the way.

The story begins with “A Factual Overview of the September 11 Border Story.” This introduction summarizes many of the key facts of the hijackers’ entry into the United States. In it, we endeavor to dispel the myth that their entry into the United States was clean and legal.” It was not. Three hijackers carried passports with indicators of Islamic extremism linked to al Qaeda; two others carried passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner. It is likely that several more hijackers carried passports with similar fraudulent manipulation. Two hijackers lied on their visa applications. Once in the United States, two hijackers violated the terms of their visas. One overstayed his visa. And all but one obtained some form of state identification. We know that six of the hijackers used these state issued identifications to check in for their flights on September 11. Three of them were fraudulently obtained.

Page 46 and 47 of this report noted:

By analyzing information available at the time, we identified numerous entry and embedding tactics associated with these earlier attacks in the United States.

The World Trade Center Bombing, February 1993. Three terrorists who were involved with the first World Trade Center bombing reportedly traveled on Saudi passports containing an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation. Three of the 9/11 hijackers also had passports containing this same possible indicator of terrorist affiliation.5

In addition, Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the attack, and Ahmad Ajaj, who was able to direct aspects of the attack despite being in prison for using an altered passport, traveled under aliases using fraudulent documents. The two of them were found to possess five passports as well as numerous documents supporting their aliases: a Saudi passport showing signs of alteration, an Iraqi passport bought from a Pakistani official, a photo-substituted Swedish passport, a photo-substituted British passport, a Jordanian passport, identification cards, bank records, education records, and medical records.6

Once terrorists had entered the United States, their next challenge was to find a way to remain here. Their primary method was immigration fraud. For example, Yousef and Ajaj concocted bogus political asylum stories when they arrived in the United States. Mahmoud Abouhalima, involved in both the World Trade Center and landmarks plots, received temporary residence under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAW) program, after falsely claiming that he picked beans in Florida.” Mohammed Salameh, who rented the truck used in the bombing, overstayed his tourist visa. He then applied for permanent residency under the agricultural workers program, but was rejected. Eyad Mahmoud Ismail, who drove the van containing the bomb, took English-language classes at Wichita State University in Kansas on a student visa; after he dropped out, he remained in the United States out of status.

Page 61 contained this passage:

Exploring the Link between Human Smugglers and Terrorists

In July 2001, the CIA warned of a possible link between human smugglers and terrorist groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Egyptian Islamic Jihad.149 Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that since 1999 human smugglers have facilitated the travel of terrorists associated with more than a dozen extremist groups.150 With their global reach and connections to fraudulent document vendors and corrupt government officials, human smugglers clearly have the “credentials” necessary to aid terrorist travel.

This paragraph is found on page 98 under the title “Immigration Benefits:”

Terrorists in the 1990s, as well as the September 11 hijackers, needed to find a way to stay in or embed themselves in the United States if their operational plans were to come to fruition. As already discussed, this could be accomplished legally by marrying an American citizen, achieving temporary worker status, or applying for asylum after entering. In many cases, the act of filing for an immigration benefit sufficed to permit the alien to remain in the country until the petition was adjudicated. Terrorists were free to conduct surveillance, coordinate operations, obtain and receive funding, go to school and learn English, make contacts in the United States, acquire necessary materials, and execute an attack.

Both reports made it abundantly clear that had our immigration system worked, the attacks could not have been carried out.

Engineers use the term "root cause" to describe a fundamental failure from which all else that went wrong happened. For example, if a car's brakes fail and the car hits a tree, the fact that the airbags failed to deploy is important, but the point is that the crash would not have happened in the first place if the brakes had worked.

Similarly, the terror attacks that have been carried out in the United States all resulted by the "root cause" of failures of the immigration system to prevent the terrorists from entering the United States in the first place.

The next failure of the immigration system occurred when terrorists were able to embed themselves in the United States. In this regard two factors came into play.

1. Terrorists who violated their immigration status were not apprehended even when they interacted with local police, leaving them free to remain at large.

2. Terrorists were able to acquire many identity documents -- some actually issued by state governments -- in false names, concealing their identities and movements.

Today most politicians have accepted the deceptive language first implemented by Carter administration when the former INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) mandated that its employees refer to aliens illegally present in the United States as being “undocumented immigrants,” an obfuscating and purposefully innocuous sounding term.

This was obviously done to create the misimpression that these individuals were simply immigrants who needed a piece of paper. Therefore the only thing we needed to do was give them the bureaucratic equivalent of a “hall pass” to make things okay.

The truth could not be more different from this lie that was and continues to be foisted on Americans by our own government. Aliens who evade the inspections process conducted at ports of entry should be referred to by the term that immigration enforcement personnel use, “EWI (Entry Without Inspection). This is the equivalent of trespassing or “breaking and entering.”

Such aliens are unscreened. We have no record of their entry and they may well be fugitives from justice in other countries, may have links to criminal or terrorist organizations.

The 9/11 Commission Report addressed the importance of the immigration inspections process conducted at ports of entry noting:

Inspectors at the ports of entry were not asked to focus on terrorists. Inspectors told us they were not even aware that when they checked the names of incoming passengers against the automated watchlist, they were checking in part for terrorists. In general, border inspectors also did not have the information they needed to make fact-based determinations of admissibility.The INS initiated but failed to bring to completion two efforts that would have provided inspectors with information relevant to counterterrorism—a proposed system to track foreign student visa compliance and a program to establish a way of tracking travelers’ entry to and exit from the United States.

The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist Travel detailed numerous examples of instances where terrorists made use of visa and immigration benefit fraud, including political asylum fraud, to enter and embed themselves in the United States.

Page 54 contained this excerpt under the title “3.2 Terrorist Travel Tactics by Plot.”

Here is an excerpt from that report that makes the above issues crystal clear:

Although there is evidence that some land and sea border entries (of terrorists) without inspection occurred, these conspirators mainly subverted the legal entry system by entering at airports.

In doing so, they relied on a wide variety of fraudulent documents, on aliases, and on government corruption. Because terrorist operations were not suicide missions in the early to mid-1990s, once in the United States terrorists and their supporters tried to get legal immigration status that would permit them to remain here, primarily by committing serial, or repeated, immigration fraud, by claiming political asylum, and by marrying Americans. Many of these tactics would remain largely unchanged and undetected throughout the 1990s and up to the 9/11 attack.

Thus, abuse of the immigration system and a lack of interior immigration enforcement were unwittingly working together to support terrorist activity. It would remain largely unknown, since no agency of the United States government analyzed terrorist travel patterns until after 9/11. This lack of attention meant that critical opportunities to disrupt terrorist travel and, therefore, deadly terrorist operations were missed.

Meanwhile there are mayors of some cities and even governors of some states that have created “sanctuaries” for aliens who evaded the inspections process at ports of entry that represent both our first line of defense and last line of defense against international terrorists, transnational criminals and others whose presence in the United States poses a threat to national security and the safety and well-being of Americans -- and even members of the ethnic immigrant communities of which they are a part, irrespective of what their native countries might be. These politicians are even providing driver's licenses and municipal identification documents, ignoring the fact that criminals and terrorists use changes in identity the way that chameleons use changes in coloration to hide in plain sight, often among their intended victims.

How can our nation's leaders be so blind or corrupt as to ignore what should be commonsense issues that were clearly identified in the 9/11 Commission Report and the companion report I have noted above?

On July 27, 2006 I testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims on the topic: Whether the Attempted Implementation of the Reid-Kennedy Immigration Bill Will Result in an Administrative and National Security Nightmare.

At that hearing I noted that advocates for amnesty for millions of illegal aliens should get the “MVP Award” from al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. That statement applies today more than ever before.

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